This is a transcript for Episode 1 of the Simple Systems with Sam Podcast. Together let’s discuss the importance of simple systems and how we can set simple systems up in our own life: starting with the simplest step.

From Overwhelmed to Simple

You know that feeling when you wake up and you just want to tackle a project or you’re like today’s the day I do clean the house from top to bottom, or maybe today, you just decide you have to put away her laundry, because it’s been staring at you from the corner of the room? Well, when we have these different things that we need to take on, that are either really big, or we’ve been dreading, I feel like we fall into one of two camps: you either become analysis paralysis, or overwhelmed without a plan. 

Analysis Paralysis

So analysis paralysis, these are the people who love a to do list, but not just any to do list, they love brain dumping a to do list for an hour that has about 150 different things on it. And at the very end, you put a little checkbox and that says, “Make to do list” and then you cross it out and you feel great, because you already crossed one thing off your to do list. But then you don’t know where to start. Because no matter where you start, you know that you’re never going to be able to accomplish all of it. And maybe you don’t want to start with the thing that’s number one. If you start down here, you’re gonna have to go here, and you’re gonna waste some time doing that. And you just can’t figure out what to do. So you don’t. 

Overwhelmed without a Plan

Or there’s overwhelmed without a plan. Overwhelmed without a plan is what I’ve been lately. We just moved into a new house in there are boxes everywhere. And I don’t really want to write a to do list because I know that that’s going to overwhelm me. So instead, I wait for the boxes to speak to me like “which one of you wants to get unpacked first”. And I’ll just sit there with my coffee, staring at the boxes. You know what speaks to me: the couch and Netflix. 

So that’s when you just don’t follow through with the plan because it’s just easier not to try to figure out what needs to happen. And these two types of things, or a combination of these two types of things. That’s why we need systems. 

Systems Perks

Systems are going to start setting these things on autopilot for us whether it’s a big project, or something as simple as doing your laundry on a regular basis. We can just set up these little things that are going to fall into place. So before you know it, it’s not even a problem that your laundry was already put away days ago. So what are you even worrying about?

 And there’s such a simple structure to it that you don’t even notice that it’s happening. It’s not like impeding on your day or your time because you have so much time left over because the system has saved it for you. 

And these things are simple. We’re not making things super complicated, you do not have to do cartwheels spin around three times and jump on your toes. They’re so easy that our kids can get involved in it’s. That’s kids, whether your students or like my five and four year old, I’ve trained them to put away dishes and laundry, because I made a system that was simple enough for my five and four year old to go ahead and put those things away. Or maybe it’s my husband checking the meal plan and saying, Oh, we’re having chili tonight, but I don’t see any meat pulled out in the freezer. So he pulls out some meat to fall so that we can have chili. Because my meal plan was a system. 

It’s so wonderful to know that other people can help that it’s not all on your shoulders, you just have to make something that is set up and organized so easily, that literally anyone can come and help you with it. 

Why do I care about Simple Systems

And the reason I’m so passionate about this, let me just tell you about my first year teaching and the thing that I never want anybody else to ever have to go through again. 

So I had my first job as small private school with zero education background besides subbing for a few months, and I took on seven preps, two of those were at the exact same time. And I Googled what a lesson plan was for about three months… I was overwhelmed without a plan for a long time over the summer.

 I was struggling every single day, continually just stressed to the max. I was making copies as my students were walking down the hall. I always felt like I was failing in one aspect or another. So I tried to push things that were bigger and better and more elaborate. And in doing so I just kind of flooded myself even more with stress and just anger and exhaustion and all the things that I couldn’t control around me. 

And then I would go home to my husband, my two year old and my two month old. And while my husband played with the kids, I would grade because when else was I supposed to do it. During school I was literally making copies of notes I wrote two minutes before my kids came into class. And then after we would put them into bed, I would drive back to school and stay there until about three in the morning. 

I am not proud of that. I just can’t believe that I did that. I was getting maybe three hours of sleep. But the baby wasn’t the baby was sleeping longer than I was. And it just was so much that it wasn’t sustainable. And there are so many other things that factored into that year but I just knew that I could not do another year like that again. 

The Big “a ha!”

So I took some time I did a little self reflection and I realized “Sam, you have a degree in engineering management, which means that you literally learned how corporations can put systems and lean manufacturing into place to save millions and dollars.” So why can’t we do that in the classroom?

 So I started implementing systems everywhere. I have my meal planning system, I had a system for grading, I have a system in my classroom for trashcan placement. And we will talk about this because it is fascinating that you would be astounded at how much money factory can save by where they placed trash cans. 

Anyway, I don’t want anyone to feel like that ever again, I want them to feel the feeling I have now where I don’t bring home work. I know when my time is to work on certain things, I have systems in place so that nothing gets too overwhelming. And if it does, I have a system for how to set up a system to fix it. 

Simple Step

So we’re going to start working on that. And to do that, we’re going to start today with our first simple step. And that is going to require you to look around and write out three pain points from wherever you are, whether it’s your classroom, or your home, maybe not your car, think about your classroom or your home. 

And I want you to think of three things that kind of are constantly nagging at you like, this really needs to get done. And we are going to create a system and a plan for those. And the first step is acknowledging that there’s a problem. I know that laundry is my problem, I don’t even try to hide it. 

And then from there, what I want you to do is I want you to decide the simplest step you can do right now, to move you in a forward direction with that, or the simplest step you can do right now, to lighten the pressure of what’s going on with that, we’re the simplest step that you can do right now, that eliminates that stress from your life. 

At Home Example

Let’s say you don’t know what is going to happen for dinner, your kids have had nuggets like seven days in a row and they’re running out of cereal to have, you need to make a good meal. The first step might be going to your freezer and seeing what you have. That’s the first step. From there, you’re going to notice that okay, well, then you can find something to cook, and you have to go ahead and cook it. But the first step, the simplest step is deciding what kind of cook tonight.

School Example

Let’s say you have, you know, the stack of grading that is bigger than your teacher bag. And you don’t even know where to begin. Well, the simplest step would be to go ahead and pull out things that don’t really need to be graded. And we all know that we have assignments that don’t really need to be graded. And you can even go one step further, you can have things that mysteriously disappear in the recycling bin because they don’t really need to be graded. You can have things that can take a completion grade, and then you can have things that you actually need to grade thoroughly. And that is going to feel a whole heck of a lot better once you get those piles sorted. 

Mom Example

Or let’s say you’re like me, and your kids are just leaving a mess of toys. Everywhere. Our basement is our current playroom. And their toys are out of the cardboard boxes, we move them in and just on the floor, and it stresses me out to see it. So what was one simple step I could do? Well, I took a tub, and I collected all the stuffed animals in that tub. And you know what, I feel a lot better. It was just one quick thing. It took me less than two minutes. And you know what’s even better? My kids notice that I put them all in there. So then they put their stuffed animals back in there when they’re done. Like, it doesn’t have to be hard, but it can make a world of difference. 

Simple Step Challenge

So your challenge is to take one small step in each of the three areas that you thought of one of the simplest things you can do. Instead of being in analysis, paralysis or overwhelmed without a plan is just to take a step. It does not have to be dramatic, it does not have to take you a long amount of time. It just needs to be a step because one small step is the start of big change. I would love if you would go on Instagram and tag me @simplesystemswithsampodcast or @engineerdoeseducation and share what little thing that you did to move forward. Till next time.